IQTIDAR ALAM KHAN*
Marx's Assessment of the Islamic Tradition
VIEWING the history of religion from a Marxist perspective, it would be a gross oversimplification to notice only as to "how religion hindered the progress of sciences" or was used as an ideological weapon for perpetuating class oppression.1 One can hardly ignore the role that religion has oft en played in providing solace and spiritual relief to the oppressed and the afflicted. Marx on his part also assigns to religion a crucial role in facilitating the progress of pre-modern humanity from one stage of civilisation to another. Hence, it is not simply the "bHnd fear of private property15 that "makes masses religious"2 in a class society. On the contrary, it is a specific form of social consciousness, or, to use Marx's words, the "self-consciousness of man who has either net found himself or has already lost himself". He elsewhere remarks that at times religion can also be "the expression of real distress and protest against real distress", poetically describing it as "the sigh of the oppressed creatures, the heart of the heartless world".3
According 'to ^Marx^ and 'Engels's conception, a religion's delinking from canicular eu^todis and" rituals of the community-in which it arises, gives it "'Ifae status^ of a^ortd religion. This being a specific form 6f social conscibu^rfftss sHs^ p^rlbrm^ a social function.4 At the ide^logieN ^plane ^ ^ertd religion not only tnjoys a considerable degree of independence frool^lN social formation in which it exists, but it is also dapable of acting a^ a material force contributing to decisive' ch^fag6s in tR& soHAl^ r^lati^its of which it is oae of the compbnents 5 It is fallacious, and -indeed qfflte alieri to the'Marxist framework, to treat religion—along withl&e dtfaer social relations e^ legal, polilical and ideological characterA*-^ ttlainty f elating to-the' superstructure and, therefore, not integraHo the production relations that go to define the essential character of a social formation.6
In the Marxist framework a world religion may be defined as a system of supernatural conceptions, sentiments, and ideas emanating from them, which come to the foreft^nrat crucial turning points of history. Interacting with each ot'her'and al^feactrbg to developments
*Centre of Advanced Sludy in History, Aligarh Muslim University, Aligath.